Notes From Lecture-Talk with Andrew Murphy: Why Sound Horses Can’t Always Work Well Under Saddle, Biomechanics and Three Bascules

Andrew Murphy is one of the instructors/trainers at the Training Teachers Of Tomorrow Trust

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I attended a series of lecture-talks with Andrew Murphy in 2010. These are some notes from the second one in the series and I thought that although several years old now, these notes might be useful for some of your dear readers 🙂

The focus was on the bio mechanics of training a riding horse, how any natural crookedness and any balance issues will show up with increased intensity under the weight of the rider.
Partly due to my interest in bio mechanics is general and partly because of Kinglsey’s rehab  [a horse I had under my care at the time] I am finding the subject fascinating.
Andrew started off with explanation of engagement and thoroughness and although you could probably find plenty of books giving pages of text about both, it seems that you can define them very simply too.
Here are some notes I made:
Thoroughness could be described as unrestricted movement of every part of the horse’s body. I actually always thought about it more in terms of feel. When I ride I look for the ease with which the horse accepts the aids and for me the thoroughness feels as if whatever I do with any aid I ‘feel’ it in all others. The idea of ‘movement in every part of the horse’s body’ helped me see it better from a teacher point of view.
Engagement is “doing more”, the joints flex more, there is more power and expression in each movement.

If you encounter schooling problems try not to think about them from psychological point of view only. The horse need not to be unsound to have problems under the saddle. Try to analyse issues from physiological/bio mechanical point of view. Many slight crookedness issues will give horses no problem whatsoever in the field, on the lunge etc Put the rider’s weight on and the whole equilibrium changes.

I watched Kingsley galloping around the field today, having some chasing games in trot, changing leads in canter effortlessly. Ok, he’s not totally sound but seems to have no troubles with free movement – and yet, he can barely keep a straight line in walk under the saddle…

What I found very interesting was when Andrew described the outline or silhouette that we normally want to achieve with a ridden horse as a combination of 3 bascules. Normally we say that an outline means that the horse ‘engages’ the hindquarters, brings the back up and rounds through the neck. To me, that image of three bascules, was actually much clearer. Again, from teaching point of view.
The horse bacules (rounds) over the neck forwards, over the pelvis backwards (by posterior pelvic tilt or in other words by tucking his bottom underneath him) and in between these opposing forces or pulleys the third bascule – of the horse’s back – is created. None is more important than the other and all has to be present if the horse is to remain healthy and sound throughout his ridden career. All three give the horse the supporting structure on which further athletic education can be built.

Stretching. We all know the importance of stretching the horses in the warm up, during the work time and in the cool down. Andrew said that the most important element of stretching is not when the horse moves with the neck down etc but when it is in the process of lowering it. In other words not a stretch itself but an act of stretchING that is of greatest value. He compared this to when we stretch our own tired back, we lean forwards and the feel of stretch in the muscles gives us a relief. Once we got down to the floor with the fingers there is nothing happening and there is a little benefit of hanging down there.
Same with horses, the moment when the horse “seeks” the rein downwards is of more importance stretch wise than the act of the horse “arriving on the bit”.

This post was first published on my Freelance Instructor’s blog in February 2010

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